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Data on Billions of Vaccinated Adults Demonstrate COVID-19 Vaccines Are Safe and Effective

Many Americans say they want to “make sure the shot is safe” before getting vaccinated. Well, the studies are completed and from the more than 2 billion people vaccinated worldwide researchers now know the COVID-19 vaccines are safe. The risk for adverse reaction to a vaccine pales in comparison to the risk of long-term issues from a COVID-19 infection.

In his nearly 30 years studying vaccines, Dr. Paul Goepfert, who is director of the Alabama Vaccine Research Clinic at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has never seen any vaccine as effective as the three COVID vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson) currently available in the United States. “A 90% decrease in risk of infections, and 94% effectiveness against hospitalization for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is fantastic,” he said.

But what makes vaccine experts such as Dr. Goepfert confident that COVID vaccines are safe in the long term? We have all seen billboards and TV infomercials from law firms seeking people harmed by diet drugs or acid-reflux medicines for class-action lawsuits. What makes Goepfert think that scientists would not discover previously unsuspected problems caused by COVID vaccines in the years ahead?

There are several reasons why that would not be true. Vaccines, given in one or two shot doses, are very different from medicines that people take every day, potentially for years. Decades of vaccine history provide powerful proof that there is little chance that any new dangers will emerge from the current COVID vaccines.

The majority of Americans who have not been vaccinated or who say they are hesitant about vaccinating their children report that safety is their main concern. Nearly a quarter of respondents in Gallup surveys in March and April 2021 said they wanted to confirm the vaccine was safe before getting the shot. “Many people worry that these vaccines were ‘rushed’ into use and still do not have full FDA approval since they are currently being distributed under Emergency Use Authorizations,” Dr. Goepfert said. “But because we have had so many people vaccinated, we actually have far more safety data than we have had for any other vaccine.”

In 1976, a vaccine against swine flu that was widely distributed in the United States resulted in rare cases (approximately one in 100,000) of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, which involves the immune system attacking the nerves. Almost all of these cases occurred in the eight weeks after a person received the vaccine. It is important to note that the flu itself also can cause Guillain-Barré Syndrome and it occurs 17 times more frequently after natural flu infection than after vaccination.

“Vaccines are just designed to deliver a payload and then are quickly eliminated by the body,” Dr. Goepfert said. “This is particularly true of the mRNA vaccines. mRNA degrades incredibly rapidly. You wouldn’t expect any of these vaccines to have any long-term side effects. And in fact, this has never occurred with any vaccine.”

Protecting Your Pets from COVID-19 Infection

Another reason to get vaccinated may be to protect your dog, cat or other pets. New research shows that cats can catch COVID-19 from sleeping on their owner’s bed. COVID-19 infection is common in pet cats and dogs whose owners have the virus, according to new research presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) held online this year.

Cases of owners spreading the disease to their dog or cat have been documented before but are considered to be of negligible risk to public health.  However, as vaccination and other measures reduce human-to-human transmission of the virus, it is becoming imperative that we understand more about the potential risk posed by animal infections.

Researchers at Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands, studied dogs and cats of people who had tested positive for COVID-19. A mobile veterinary clinic visited the homes of owners who had tested positive in the past two to 200 days and oral and rectal swabs and blood samples were taken from their cats and dogs.

The swabs were used in PCR tests, which provide evidence of current infection, and the blood samples were tested for antibodies, which provide evidence of past infection. Some 156 dogs and 154 cats from 196 households were tested. Six cats and seven dogs (4.2%) had positive PCR tests and 31 cats and 23 dogs (17.4%) tested positive for antibodies.

Eleven of the 13 owners whose pets had positive PCR tests agreed for them to undergo a second round of testing one to three weeks after they were first tested. All 11 animals tested positive for antibodies, confirming they had had COVID-19. Three cats still had positive PCR tests and were tested for a third time. Eventually, all PCR-positive animals cleared the infection and became PCR negative.

Eight cats and dogs that lived in the same homes as the PCR-positive pets were also tested again at this second stage to check for virus transmission among pets. None tested positive, suggesting the virus wasn’t being passed between pets living in close contact with one another.

With pets in 40 out of 196 households (20.4%) studied having antibodies for the virus, the researchers concluded that COVID-19 is highly prevalent in pets of people who have had the disease.

“If you have COVID-19, you should avoid contact with your cat or dog, just as you would do with other people,” said study investigator Dr. Els Broens with the Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands. “The main concern, however, is not the animals’ health. They had no or mild symptoms of COVID-19, but the potential risk that pets could act as a reservoir of the virus and reintroduce it into the human population.”

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